Elon Musk as owner is a long-dreaded reality for Twitter employees

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Twitter employees reacted with shock and dismay on Monday when a new reality set in: Elon Musk – the world’s richest man, free speech advocate and outspoken critic of Twitter – would be the new owner of the company.

On Twitter, in private messages and in interviews with The Washington Post, employees expressed fear over Musk’s $44 billion buyout. Parag Agrawal, CEO of Twitter, with board chairman Bret Taylor, held an internal town hall Monday afternoon in which executives tried to reassure anxious staff but offered few direct answers. A central concern was that Musk would attempt to break safeguards to protect everyday users that staff had built over many years, according to interviews and tweets, as well as a town hall recording obtained by The Post.

Some tweeted tear-filled emoji and memes of people with emotional breakdowns, while others told the Post they were too shocked to speak. At Monday’s town hall, executives were vague in response to questions about future layoffs, changes to the company’s approach to free speech and safety, and whether the company will continue to earn money through advertising.

“I fully understand that it is entertainment for some,” an employee tweeted. “But please understand that this is definitely not entertainment for me.”

“Today’s news is so crazy that I literally forgot I had COVID,” another tweeted.

To many observers and employees, Musk’s acquisition offer seemed unlikely at first. Musk didn’t seem to have enough funds to make the offer on his own, and Twitter’s board seemed try to derail the case. But in recent days, Musk said he secured the financing through loans, and on Monday the company announced in a press release that the acquisition had taken place. The acquisition, which would rank among the largest-ever activist takeovers of a publicly traded company, would take the company private in three to six months, executives said at City Hall.

Musk’s involvement with Twitter, which began this month when he went public that he had acquired a significant stake in the company, had already caused outcry from employees. In dozens of internal messages obtained by The Post, workers expressed concern that Musk’s brandon could damage company culture and make it harder for people to do their jobs. Observers and disinformation researchers echoed the criticism.

The company, which is based in the liberal city of San Francisco and has more than 5,000 employees, has spent years building a progressive corporate culture that empowers employees to say just about anything they want and to live where they want. Twitter was the first company to take action against former President Donald Trump for his tweets supporting the Capitol rioters on January 6, 2021, and engineering teams have spent years building tools to combat spam, misinformation and hate speech under an initiative known as Healthy Conversations.

Elon Musk to address Twitter staff after internal outcry

“I don’t know any non-engineer working on health issues who see how this helps,” a Twitter employee said in an interview in response to questions about Musk’s ownership, referring to the health division of the company that enforces the rules against harmful content such as hate speech and misinformation. “Most find it discouraging.”

Musk, on the other hand, has used his Twitter account – which has more than 84 million followers – to defend free speech and challenge content moderation decisions such as Trump’s ban, and has seemed to make fun of gender pronouns. He is also known as a tough manager who will seek to fire people on the spot when they disagree with his way of thinking, including at one point disbanding his entire PR team.

At the town hall, Twitter executives and chairman of the board, Taylor, acknowledged that emotions were running high for people. But they insisted the deal was financially good for Twitter and that Musk could unlock the company’s untapped potential, while offering few details on what it meant.

Taylor said the merger received a unanimous vote from the board, and Agrawal said there would be no immediate layoffs or changes to the company during the term of the agreement. Once the company closed, the employees’ shares would be paid out to them in cash.

Elon Musk wants a utopia of freedom of expression. The technologists applaud.

But Agrawal was much less clear about the future, particularly on questions of whether Musk would change how the company controls speech and enforces its rules online — and even whether the company would maintain its advertising business model at long term.

Agrawal said executives “will continue to spend time with Elon to learn more, and as we learn more, we’ll share it with you.” He also said his team would seek to better understand what Musk’s “aspirations and ambitions” might be so that executives can determine how “best to collaborate” with the new owner.

Employees seemed dissatisfied, according to discussions at the town hall that one employee described to The Post. A group of employees created a “questions for Elon Musk” document, while others asked during the town hall if he would restore Trump’s Twitter account. Some have asked if management is concerned about an exodus of employees.

The company also said it would block employees from making changes to Twitter’s service until Friday, according to Bloomberg News, a move that could prevent employees from retaliating by damaging Musk’s Twitter account.

The concern has precedent: Years ago, a Twitter employee temporarily deleted Trump’s account.

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